by Kevin Kocur and Gus Breiland

Let’s say you’ve just gone into the Witness Protection Program. The first thing they’ll probably teach you is that you need to blend in. Don’t stand out from the crowd and don’t draw attention to yourself. Once you’ve graduated from WPP 101, you are now free to start your new life. Congratulations, “Mr. Smith”—just remember to keep a low profile and everything will be fine.

Sadly, Smith will never get to know the pure joy and exhilaration that is the Piaggio MP3. Luckily, the rest of us can all bask in the spotlight, as this thing demands center stage everywhere it goes. Whether you’re just filling up the gas tank or stopping off for frozen custard, you will draw a crowd!

While this curious-looking scooter gains some of its attention from its unique design— which gives it a look like it’s part personal watercraft and part snowmobile—the thing that really makes people take notice is that it has two wheels on the front and one on the rear. And it leans in corners!

To accomplish this, the MP3 rides on what appear to be two complete forks up front. Actually, there are four aluminum arms supporting two steering tubes, forming a suspension with 85 mms of travel, and a 40-degree lean angle. The MP3’s suspension can be locked into an upright position when parked, via a switch on the right handlebar controls.

You can also lock the suspension while sitting still at a stoplight. It’s great fun to do this, especially when motorists pull up next to you and you’re sitting there with your feet up on the floorboard. People don’t notice the two front wheels until they’re right next to (or in front of) you. Yeah, that never got old. As soon as you hit the gas, the suspension lock releases and you’re able to lean again. With practice, you can lock the suspension just as the scoot comes to a stop, thereby eliminating the need to subject those brand new Doc Martens to any contact with pavement. Again, twist the throttle and glide away from the light.

And what good is a scooter (or motorcycle for that matter) if you can’t use it to go shopping and run errands? With 65 liters of storage, the MP3 is more than up to the task. The storage area is accessible by unlatching the seat, or through a door in the tail section. Either can be unlatched via the multi-use ignition switch, but I usually preferred to unlatch the seat via the remote control built into the key. This was partly due to general laziness, plus the fact that I like gadgets. Piaggio claims that you can fit a full face and a half face helmet in the storage area. While helmets will be fine in there, don’t plan on bringing Tabby along for the ride. Pet storage is strictly proibito.

In the Looks Department, the MP3 scored high with me. I like the looks (and performance) of the headlights. I also like the fairing’s lines, not to mention that it works wonderfully. While I never got a chance to see how effective it was in the rain, the lack of excess wind coming off of it indicates that it probably does a pretty good job of keeping water off you as well. I would almost complain that it does too good of a job, as I got a little warm wearing my Darien pants due to the lack of airflow below the windscreen. The dashboard has a nice layout with all of the requisite lights and instruments. And the two large, round gauges, rimmed in chrome, would look right at home on a ’65 Mustang. All in all, a very handsome dash.

Riding the MP3 is, well, let’s just cut to the chase and say that this thing kicks ass. And with a fairly neutral riding position, great ergonomics and a decent seat, you won’t feel like your own ass is getting kicked. There is a center stand, as well as a parking brake in case you just want to lock the suspension upright and leave the Piaggio parked right where it’s at. Just remember to undo the parking brake before you take off, because a couple of times I….

Once rolling, the MP3 rides and handles pretty much like any other automatic scooter. You don’t immediately notice that there’s a little extra going on up front. The only time I could really tell was at very low speeds when it required a little extra effort to maneuver. Otherwise, just throw it around like you would any other scooter.

Obviously, the MP3 really shines on wet roads, as well as roads with irregular pavement. And what about tar snakes? Glad you asked. There’s a particular road, that I commute daily on, that’s full of ‘em. As much as I tried, the only hiccup I encountered was when I tried weaving back and forth over the strip that ran right down the center of the lane, through a curve. Oh, and it was about 85 degrees that afternoon, so the strips were nice ‘n gooey. I would never think of trying that on anything with two wheels.

When it’s time to stop, the triple disc brakes are more than up for the job, with nary a chirp from the 12” tires. The suspension soaks up most of the bumps with aplomb, but it will jar you if you get too hot into a really bumpy corner.

And let’s not forget the reason that I threatened/bribed the editor for a chance to ride the MP3: it’s just so different!!! I’ll admit I like oddball stuff, and a lot of people would define the MP3 as such. I like it’s quirkiness, but also appreciate its sure-footedness on all types of road conditions. Face it: I love the fact that it’s an attention getter. In fact, a group of vintage scooter riders took a break from splitting Vespa cases to come out and look at it (although they were probably just interested in all the beer I was able to stash under the seat.) And lets not forget about the two guys that literally ran out from behind the convenience store counter, just to get a better look.

Yes, I would not last long in the Witness Protection Program. While “Mr. Smith” might be content driving his boring silver sedan, day in and day out, and blending in with society, the narcissist in me is screaming for the attention! And the MP3 makes no apologies for expecting the same. Which makes me ponder…is there a little of me in the MP3, or a little of the MP3 in me?

 

by Gus Breiland

For over a century now, motorcycle companies have been defining and redefining the motorcycle as we know it. From a bicycle came the motorcycle. The motor has been mounted in the front wheel and in the frame. The fuel has been gas, diesel, electric and even steam.

The addition of the third wheel has been wrought with ridicule and envy. There is the convenience and functionality of the sidecar, the oddity of the trike, and we won’t even mention the guys who want to eliminate 2 of the 3 for a ring with a seat in the middle. Piaggio has brought the 3rd wheel forward in production with the MP3, 250cc scooter.

While I am not fond of the moniker MP3 (a bit too trendy for me), the scoot of this name has been a welcome addition to my riding experience. The MP3 let me wonder about the change in the physics of riding. Where does the countersteer start with this bike? Can I feel more weight in the front end in a corner? Does my dog plot my death on a daily…wait, that is a different problem.

My first introduction to the MP3 was through emails from friends showing movies online. The MP3 was shown being put through its paces by MotoGP riders behind the bars. I was transfixed by the motion of the front wheels as they weaved back and forth, up and down, side to side. As a fan of mechanism, it was entertaining to watch the independent front wheels find their footing. This smooth motion allows the scooter to roll through the corners with extra contact and braking power.

But when riding the MP3 I was in for a disappointment. I do not get to see the grace and flow of the front end suspension components in motion. My day job has me working with engineers and designers who are making bits and pieces that must function together. Piaggio has done an excellent job of making a new front assembly that provides very similar feedback to a standard 2-wheeled scooter, but with 3.

“So what’s it feel like?” is the most common question. It feels like nothing. You can tell the front end is a little heavier at low speeds. Nothing dramatic, just another contact point you need to move. The biggest difference is in counter-steering. If you want the MP3 to corner quickly at speed, you can pull hard on your left bar to dive in. But in gentle corners and at low speeds you can steer it like a car. Counter steering in general begins at a higher rate of speed on the MP3. I felt it appeared around 20-25 miles per hour, where a standard 2-wheeled vehicle begins to counter-steer around 10-15 mph.

The lack of expected resistance from the front end found me actually hitting corners harder than necessary, and backing off on the angle of attack. The only feedback that I noticed was when I was in full lean with the inboard wheel compressed and the outboard wheel searching for footing. There was a slight vibration in the steering as the rubber tried to grab. I’ll be interested to feel the front end of an MP3 scooter in about 10 years. With all of the road grime, salt, and every other road contaminant Minnesota seems to be fond of throwing down, the electrical system on the front suspension, along with the mechanical surfaces, will take a beating. Skeptic Gus will be curious if the motion will continue to be as smooth.

Piaggio is marketing this as a safety feature, which seems odd ot me. Stability, yes. Saftey, no. You still need to be conscious of your surroundings, and you are just as likely to tip over on the MP3 from lack of attention as any other scooter. While the front suspension is lockable in the upright position with an electro / hydraulic lock, it disengages automatically when the rpms reach roughly 3000, or 9 miles per hour. Those are the published numbers on the www.piaggiousa.com. I actually found that around 2000 rpm, or 3 miles per hour, were the triggers. Apparently you can also turn this lock on as you are coming to a stop, but I never found success with this and I am glad I did not.

I am programmed to put weight on the left side of the bike and land on the left foot at a stop. On the few attempts to engage the lock while coming to a stop, I found myself tilting to the left and still putting my foot down. While the front suspension lock was fun to play with on non-flat steep surfaces, in motion and during commuting I forgot about it and continued to use the Piaggio MP3 as a standard scooter.

250 ccs allowed me to commute to work at an indicated 70 miles per hour. The freeway was straight and unexciting, exactly the way it should be. I did not find any odd feedback at speed, or any “binding” that a skeptic like me would assume happens at certain rpms, angles of travel or lane changes. Smooth, smooth and more smooth.

I think the Piaggio MP3 is cosmetically lacking s a scooter. It seems to be the Ellen DeGeneres of scooters. Not overly attractive, entertaining, but depending on your upbringing you either accept it for what it is, or you question the validity of it being born that way. The only other description I can think of is it looks like a Sci-Fi robot.

The windscreen was not functional, but the seating position and seat were comfortable for my 30 mile, one way commute. Anything over 60 miles was a little too much time in the saddle. A tank of 3.2 gallons allowed for about 140 miles, but I didn’t have a chance to run the tank dry and see the actual numbers.

The fuel filler is between your feet, putting the tank low. While this is good for center of gravity, it is terrible for filling. Bending over to undo the cap and having to lean over to fill the tank seems like a lower back spasm waiting to happen.

While I really like the 15 gallons of under- seat storage capacity, the goofballs designing the under- seat compartment forgot one little thing. You are going to have to ride this through rain someday and when you do, water will come up from the back tire through the access panel that allows you to read the frame number soaking your belongings. You will only get burned on this once…maybe twice if you’re as slow as me, but it is a mistake in their design.

What I did like about the generous under-seat storage is my courier bag laid flat under the seat with room in the little cubbyhole in back for a helmet, 6 pack or Fluffy. What’s that? Oh, yeah…I almost forgot. Apparently, Piaggio must have been worried somoone would try to stuff their family pet under the seat of a scooter as they have put a sticker visible from the back hatch stating no pets. They used the universal red circle with a red line across the outline of a cat. Or perhaps Piaggio just hates cats.

I’m scratching my head as to why the 3 wheels are not the same. I don’t know why this perplexes me, but it does. The front end has 2 x 120/70 – 12” x 3” and the rear drive wheel s a 130/70 – 12” x 3.5”. Not a huge difference, but different. The Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT)/ motor is rolling around in back, with the rear wheel independent of the front 2 wheels. This gets me wondering if 3 are better than 2. But what do I know, I only ride ‘em, I don’t know what makes ‘em work.

The headlights are excellent for night travel but I do wish both headlights were illuminated while riding. The MP3 uses one for running, and the other for a high beam which on some bikes looks really cool. On the MP3, it looks like a burned out headlight.

The controls are excellent. On the right hand is the kill switch, starter button, front lock engagement and a Mode button. While I should be talking about the suspension locking mechanism on/off switch, it is actually the Mode button that I found to be the most useful. Instead of reaching into the dash to select trips A or B and the odometer, a simple depression of the Mode button cycles you through your readouts. Hold down the Mode button and the trip meter resets to zero.

While taking photographs, Kevin joked, “Look how easy it is to park!”. I looked over and he was pushing it into a parking space with one finger. The front end was locked upright and the bike just rolled back into its’ spot. There is a silver lever you then pull up to engage a parking brake, eliminating the need for a side stand. However, there is a center stand to scrape on hard left hand turns.

Scooters and small displacement bikes are becoming more and more popular with me. What does a commuter really need? Something to get you from point A to point B with little effort and cost. If you feel that a 3rd wheel is the ticket to stability and ease of use, so be it. The Piaggio MP3 has excellent commuting appeal. I enjoyed watching oncoming traffic as their morning brain thought about their day. You could see their eyes began to comprehend 2 wheels instead of one. On some, you could read their lips commenting “…two?”

You should enjoy your commute as much as possible; it is only for the rest of your life. The sign of a good traveling companion is someone / something that makes you want to explore. I come straight home on my daily commute, as the bike I am currently on lacks the stimulus that drives me to explore. I don’t want to be on it any longer than I have to. But the MP3 inspires the use of more corners, different twisty roads, and the ability to bring dinner home under the seat. Life can be a coin operated ride outside of the local convenience store, or a park bench. If the Piaggio MP3 were sitting outside the Kwiki Mart, I’d need more quarters. Thanks again to Leo’s South for the loan of the MP3.

M.M.M.

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